Feminism

Marissa Dauber, Jill Venditti, Kate Kamler, and Taylor Fancher 

ENG 252

Feminism 

Photo by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash

Definitions: 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines feminism as “Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this” (OED). There are many ways in which the word feminism can be interpreted. Over the years, it has been thought of as many different things; however, we tend to agree now that feminism is the equality of the sexes. This word has been a controversial one at times, but it has also remained a word that provides great empowerment for many women, especially after such a long time of being oppressed in comparison to men. Though feminism means equality, it also represents women as strong and independent forces, like we will further examine in the literary works discussed in class. 

Etymology: 

1851, “qualities of females;” 1895, “advocacy of women’s rights;” from French féminisme (1837); see feminine + -ism. Also, in biology, “development of female secondary sexual characteristics in a male” (1875). Literature is able to help us think about feminism in a more nuanced way by providing real examples about real women. Often times, hypothetical situations may go over one’s head, but when presented with real situations from women’s lives, people are able to grasp the value of women empowerment. Feminism is such a prominent term all throughout history, because it has evolved so much. It is now a term that bonds women together in a type of sisterhood, to stand against the inequality they have faced through the years. Women support other women through this term, and authors provide prominent works of literature to further strengthen this bond.

Keyword in Action: 

The book Mean by Myriam Gurba is a mix between true-crime, memoir, and ghost story. Gurba uses humor in unusual ways to depict traumatic events that happened to her throughout her childhood. She uses her story as an inspiration to women everywhere, through her heroic acts of feminism. Though Gurba frequently references feminism throughout her story, she doesn’t always do so in a way that paints men and women as equals, like the dictionary definition would suggest. For example, during the scene on the playground where the boy asks to join her girls only club, she states “You and your friends can join our club if you climb to the top of this…and jump” (Gurba, 14). Gurba knows that the fence she is asking the boy to climb is many stories high and would be an impossible feat for a young boy. However, young Gurba also understands that girls are frequently treated unequal to boys, and not given the same opportunities. She is creating a similar situation to put the boys at a disadvantage, instead of the girls for a change. She is protecting the sacred space among girls that they have created where they are free from the influence, expectations, and gaze of these boys. Gurba states “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation. Like the literacy tests given to black folks in the American South before the Voting Rights Act passed. I was an early-onset feminist” (Gurba, 15). Gurba is, admittedly, a feminist from a young age. However, in her version of feminism, she recognizes that equality is not always equity, as shown in her reference to the literacy tests for African Americans. Whereas equality implies the same for everybody, equity entails appropriate opportunities for everybody, depending on their needs. In this situation, Gurba is proving how strong of a woman she is by not letting yet another boy get his way so easily, and challenging him, just as women have historically been challenged. This is showcasing Gurbas strength for bringing light to unspoken topics such as sexual assault and being the women who fights back. 

In addition to Gurbas examples of girls not being treated equally to boys, Gurba depicts a method that women can stick up for themselves. In the book Mean, Gurba is constantly showcasing her desire for equality for women and showing how women need to stick up for themselves in a male dominated society. In the quote, “We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts. We act mean to defend out clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular.(Gurba, 16), Gurba’s efforts towards encouraging women not to conform to society’s expectations of being the nice girl is evident. She believes that this is the right way to act towards men due to the fact that men think it is okay to act in derogatory ways to women. In addition, she states, “He pushes her legs apart. He pulls out his corn and kneels. Blood pours from her cheek, nose, and head as he feeds himself into her. (Gurba, 2), Gurba is explaining the disrespect that certain men have for women. For a man to sexually assault a woman and rob her of her privacy is one of the lowest acts a human can perform. When sexual assault happens, ninety-one percent are women and nine percent are men. This proves how men hold dominance over women in a repulsive way. Gurba is clear to explain how he forced himself into her. For this man to push her legs apart shows how much control he had and she didn’t, which should never be that way. Gurba makes it clear to what is happening and describes his male genitalia as corn, which is imaginative. She talks about the actions that the rest of society does not. This showcases how society treats sexaul assault in a poor manner. This is shown in the scene with Mr. Hand, when Gurba wrote, “My time with him taught me how to be quietly molested” (Gurba, 25). This is evidence of how society turns a blind eye to sexual assault, and Mr. Hand is simply one example. Gurba has strength for bringing light to unspoken topics such as sexual assault and speaking the dark truth.  

In the book Citizen by Claudia Rankine, she discusses the troubles of being african american through a series of stories about those who have suffered at the hands of racism and sexism. Traditionally, gender equality is the primary topic when discussing feminism, but Rankine explores how race and gender intersect in complex ways, and as a result makes the reader think about the word feminism in different ways. She shows in a few different ways how being a woman, as well as a person of color, makes life disproportionately difficult. For example, Rankine writes, “And when the woman with multiple degrees says, I didn’t know black women could get cancer, instinctively you take two steps back though all urgency leaves the possibility of any kind of relationship as you realize nowhere is where you will get from here” (Rankine, 45), here, Rankine points her finger at racist and damaging stereotypes held by women. Rankine is acknowledging the fact that men aren’t alone in their racism, women can be racist too. Rankine also states how creating a relationship with this woman would get her nowhere; by stating that the relationship would be counterproductive, shet  could be hinting that trying to reform racist mindsets is not worth the trouble. This opens up the discussion about how to end racism, and create gender inequality, so that future generations do not have to endure what previous generations have endured. 

Rankine has given so many women a voice, even if they aren’t aware of the voice they have been given. Her empowering words honors voices that have been repressed, criticized, or  erased for far too long. Rankine’s work is powerful and heavily advocates for the equality women deserve. When reading the excerpt about Serena Williams, it provoked many feelings, rage being one of them. We see the way Serena Williams is treated, one of the most powerful women athletes in our country, yet she receives improper treatment, that she can’t react to. This not only shows her strength, but it shows her resilience. Rankine said “You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived” (Rankine, 24). Women should be angry by the way they are treated; it is unfair. Anger is what has driven so many women to fight for equality, but anger shouldn’t be held against them. This quote exemplifies how women are labeled and displays the inequalities they face.

In conclusion, feminism is an extremely important keyword that has been used and evolved all throughout history. These two prominent authors, Myriam Gurba and Claudia Rankine, have demonstrated and defined feminism all throughout their works of literature. Their novels have worked to inspire readers everywhere to learn about and practice feminism in their everyday lives. Feminism is the word that represents equality and independence of women, and these authors have worked to successfully strengthen a bond between women. 

Works Cited 

“Feminism, n.” Feminism, n. : Oxford English Dictionary,

https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/69192?redirectedFrom=feminism+#eid.

“Feminism (n.).” Index, https://www.etymonline.com/word/feminism.

Fisher , Cullen. “Statistics about Sexual Violence.” Statistics about Sexual Violence.

https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Penguin Books, 2015

Injustice.

I chose a girl’s assault incident for my found poem. This specific case against Jacob Anderson, caused outrage among people because he received no jail time for his actions. Anderson only had to pay a four hundred dollar fine and serve three years probation for nearly killing a nineteen- year old and stripping her of her rights. I read this article from The Washington Post and was shocked when reading about the girl’s words towards her attacker. She said to him, “It must be horrible to be you” “To know what you did to me. To know you are a rapist. To know that you almost killed me. To know that you ruined my life, stole my virginity, and stole many other things from me.” When I read this, I could only imagine the pain that she spoke those words with. The trama that Anderson caused her is repulsive.

I chose to put the victims words in the center of my found poem to emphasize the monster that Anderson is and the magnitude of his actions that did not receive penalization. I was compelled to ensure his actions were exposed since the judge failed to do so. I placed his punishment at the top right of this poem to encapsulate how Anderson’s victim did not get justice. I felt the need to show a glimpse of her suffering in the bottom left of the paper to display the degree of her pain. The injustice that transpired during this case was unfathomable since it gives Anderson the opportunity to traumatize other innocent women for life. No one should have ever gone through what that innocent girl was forced to so the fact that there’s a chance that other innocent women could experience what she unfortunately had to is sickening.

The Fear of the Unknown

“The Woman Warrior” is an autobiography written by Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston displays her life in creative short stories throughout this autobiography. In the short story “Shaman,” she talks about her mother, “Brave Orchird,” and how her life was enticing and eventful. The ghosts haunt Kingston that her mother brought in her life, she paints an image for the readers about the conflicts that her relationship with her mother had brought her. There is a distrust that Kingston has within her mother, a reason for this distrust is from not knowing whether her mother had taken part in killing babies or not. Brave Orchird would describe to Kingston the common practice of killing baby girls by suffocation in a box of ashes. Kingston then suffers from nightmares about preventing babies from being killed. She said that she “would protect the dream baby, not let it suffer, not let it out of my sight. (86)” This could be a direct result from the shame that she feels from her mother, possibly killing babies without certainty. While her mother thinking that telling her these stories will help her self- esteem about being a woman, it does the opposite. Kingston’s dreams consume her about her saving the babies, and she always fails to do so, resulting in her questioning her sanity. Her dreams show how deep down Kingston is a good person and how influential her mother was on her. This also relates to how impressionable Kingston was in “No Name Woman” when her mother told her, “You must not tell anyone… what I am about to tell you.” That is additionally a difficult thing to ask of a child, and her mother continues to do this to Kington for her entire life. 

Another childhood fear that Kingston suffered from was about the expectations put on females, which started from her mother’s stories about female slavery. She had this intense fear that she was unwanted as a daughter and would be sold as a slave in her lifetime. This is yet another example of how Brave Orchirds stories instilled fear in her daughter and uncertainty about herself. She talks about how she does not want to go to China because she believes that in China, her parents would sell her. This could be a reason that she can only “smell” China and not see it. It could be her subconscious blocking out China because she believes it is a bad place. Kingston believed that her mother cared more about her slave girl than she did her daughter. She said, “My mother’s enthusiasm for me is duller than for the slave girl. (82)” When Kingston had said this, it shined a light on the fact that she is insecure about herself and believed that she was not good enough for anything, especially her mother. A mother’s approval is pivotal for a daughter’s self-esteem, and Brave Orchid damaged that for Kingston. Her telling this in a story form shows the beauty of storytelling since it paints her experience gracefully. 

At the end of the chapter, Brave Orchid says about the children who died in China that “No, you must have been dreaming. You must have been making up stories. You are all the children there are. (103)” to Kingston. This shows how she blocked out the trauma of them ever dying, which also relates to “No Name Woman” and how her family didn’t even honor her memory. This ultimately even makes her homeland unknown to Brave Orchid. The unknown can be a scary thing, especially with a young girl such as Kingston. Kingston displays her childhood in an enticing method that shows the magnitude of how impressionable she was to her mother’s stories due to the uncertainty of them.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the significance of the unknown in life? Especially in Kingstons life? 
  2. What does Brave Orchid represent? How does Kingston view her mother?

Hi, My name is Jill!

I am a Sophomore here at Cortland. I am majoring in Secondary English Education. I am from Halfmoon, which is in Saratoga Springs County. I am among the few people who are not from Long Island. I have an older sister who is twenty-one and I also have a dog. I love going to school at Cortland and I’m excited to get to know all of you!